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The New Brooks Brothers

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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who gassed you bro? If anyone on SF tries too hard it's you.

Things change - as you noted - and so all I'm saying is should BB not also be expected to change? They tried different things over the years (OMG) and some worked and some didn't. You think American-made BMWs are any good? Yet for many, BMW is one of the the luxury standards for autos - and prolly not for others. Who cares?

Client's tastes evolve and they leave BB and move on to other brands while many people will perhaps be discovering BB at the same (damn) time. It's a cycle you cannot combat.
So your deep take is "things change" but also "things may not have changed, as the quality may not have declined?" Also "the strategy was a success" but also "people are only grumbling because the business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?"

If you think that Brooks Brothers changed, then it seems reasonable to say whether you think those changes were for the good, either from a financial or enthusiast point of view.
 

Viral

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So your deep take is "things change" but also "things may not have changed, as the quality may not have declined?" Also "the strategy was a success" but also "people are only grumbling because the business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?"

If you think that Brooks Brothers changed, then it seems reasonable to say whether you think those changes were for the good, either from a financial or enthusiast point of view.
I realize now why you are trying to be a internet celebrity........you could not have misinterpreted things more incorrectly. Luckily, this is a safe space for you.

The deep take is that people say things on the internet who are not privy to real information but will convince others that they are. And I'm saying that BB tried different things over the years and are still around, even after much success and certain failures - so why all the fuss? We all have done this in one way or another in our own lives.

McDonalds sells pizza in some markets yet are not chastised for it on the internet.

Maybe you will get this or maybe you won't..........enjoy!
 

othertravel

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What are your thoughts on their most recent pivot (pre-bankruptcy)?

Golden Fleece tailoring moving to unstructured and unlined fits, and GF shoes made by Sassetti?

In the case of the shoes, it looks like the margins were better by using Sassetti (and high-shine (corrected?) leather.
 

othertravel

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I realize now why you are trying to be a internet celebrity........you could not have misinterpreted things more incorrectly. Luckily, this is a safe space for you.

The deep take is that people say things on the internet who are not privy to real information but will convince others that they are. And I'm saying that BB tried different things over the years and are still around, even after much success and certain failures - so why all the fuss? We all have done this in one way or another in our own lives.

McDonalds sells pizza in some markets yet are not chastised for it on the internet.

Maybe you will get this or maybe you won't..........enjoy!
In this case it sounds like Derek is privy to real information.
 

Nobilis Animus

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Client's tastes evolve and they leave BB and move on to other brands while many people will perhaps be discovering BB at the same (damn) time. It's a cycle you cannot combat.
I agree with this bit.

What are your thoughts on their most recent pivot (pre-bankruptcy)?

Golden Fleece tailoring moving to unstructured and unlined fits, and GF shoes made by Sassetti?

In the case of the shoes, it looks like the margins were better by using Sassetti (and high-shine (corrected?) leather.
I thought their move back to a better OCBD was definitely a nod towards their more classic versions of the past, but sort of backfired when even BB enthusiasts balked at the new price. Wasn't particularly impressed by a lot of GF offerings. You might as well have gone to Oxxford and the like if you wanted to pay a premium for better American tailoring.

I've always thought that the essence of Brooks Brothers lay in its quintessentially American approach to things, and the fact that it was a one-stop place for almost anything you could think of, clothing-wise. In that sense they're not atypical for the general trajectory of things. Abercrombie and Fitch used to be safari outfitters, for goodness' sake. I believe Teddy Roosevelt himself was once equipped for an Amazonian expedition at their New York store. Now it sells distressed jeans to teenagers, if anyone still shops at the dreadful place.
 

knittieguy

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I knew BB was headed in the wrong direction when I started seeing their shops in airports. As for their huge expansion into outlets, I firmly believe it was a big mistake, especially to make shoddy products just for the outlets. I bought a 346 model suit from the outlet once (before I knew better) and it was terribly made. It actually started coming apart at the seams. I firmly believe their outlet expansion cheapened the brand. I stopped buying at BB in about '07 or so, although I've occasionally picked up C&J shoes from them on sale.
 

FlyingHorker

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I agree with this bit.



I thought their move back to a better OCBD was definitely a nod towards their more classic versions of the past, but sort of backfired when even BB enthusiasts balked at the new price. Wasn't particularly impressed by a lot of GF offerings. You might as well have gone to Oxxford and the like if you wanted to pay a premium for better American tailoring.

I've always thought that the essence of Brooks Brothers lay in its quintessentially American approach to things, and the fact that it was a one-stop place for almost anything you could think of, clothing-wise. In that sense they're not atypical for the general trajectory of things. Abercrombie and Fitch used to be safari outfitters, for goodness' sake. I believe Teddy Roosevelt himself was once equipped for an Amazonian expedition at their New York store. Now it sells distressed jeans to teenagers, if anyone still shops at the dreadful place.
A&F have gotten better and aim at young adult crowd now. I bought a cream safari jacket from there and it had all the right pocket details with a cotton/linen blend.

Also bought a rayon(viscose?) camp shirt there that looks and feels great.
 

Marc Voorhees

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I have been following this thread closely, enjoy the opinions. I bought BB for 10 years, in the 2009, but the quality dropped off precipitously. Now, I only buy pajamas form them, and even them, and often left disappointed, I just can't find other manufacturers that I like without elastic in the drawstring pants.

As a note, the best part of this entire thread and discussion is @dieworkwear saying (nice) everytime he types 69 (nice)
 

Nobilis Animus

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A&F have gotten better and aim at young adult crowd now. I bought a cream safari jacket from there and it had all the right pocket details with a cotton/linen blend.

Also bought a rayon(viscose?) camp shirt there that looks and feels great.
Really? Shows how often I've been to the place, but I'm assuming this has been pretty recent?
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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What are your thoughts on their most recent pivot (pre-bankruptcy)?

Golden Fleece tailoring moving to unstructured and unlined fits, and GF shoes made by Sassetti?

In the case of the shoes, it looks like the margins were better by using Sassetti (and high-shine (corrected?) leather.
I came into Brooks Brothers well after they were bought by Marks and Spencer, so I can't claim to have first-hand knowledge of the "golden age." But the last category of things I bought from them was the shoes. Even when the rest of the store started to feel like a generic Italian brand, I thought the shoes were really good. Still made by Northampton companies and Alden, and sometimes in exclusive styles.

Like, they went from this: exclusive Alden-made models such as the unlined shell cordovan penny loafer and their take on the black calf Alden tassel loafer (their version has the foxing at the back)


Alden-Brooks-Brothers-986-Shell-Cordovan-Penny-Loafers-Red-Clay-Soul-Top.jpg

DSCF6278-1.jpg



To this: Italian made shoes with a logo stamped on the upper and "performance" soles
Screen-Shot-2019-05-19-at-1.01.19-PM.jpg
Screen-Shot-2019-05-19-at-2.19.40-PM.jpg




Someone who worked at Brooks Brothers at the executive level once told me a story. When he first started working there in the 1980s, he worked with the CEO. At the time, Paul Stuart had just come out with their first $1,000 suit. Brooks Brothers at the time didn't have any suits that retailed for $1,000, so they wanted to make something that competed at that level.

So the CEO tasks this guy and his team with making Brooks Brother's first $1,000 suit. This guy goes to the factory and specs out the suit. He wants the best fabric, full canvas, hand stitching, hand attached everything, etc. The factory produces the suit and tells him that the manufacturing cost will be something like $400. At the time, Brooks Brothers margin was 50%, so a $400 suit would sell on the floor for $800. This guy goes to the CEO and says "we've made a $800 suit." CEO says "that's not $1,000, so go back and work on it some more."

Guy goes back to the factory and says "OK, give us everything you got. We want heel guards, etc." (Heel guards are that little strip of fabric that goes at the bottom of the hem to protect the hem). The tailor puts even more details into the suit. Says "OK, now the cost is $450." Guy goes back to the CEO and says "well the best we could do was $450, so this is a $900 suit." The CEO shrugs and says, "OK, I guess that's our $900 suit now."

This was told to me as an example of Brooks Brothers' thinking at the time. It did not occur to them that just because it cost them $450 to make a suit that they could still charge $1,000. The retail price still could have been $1,000 -- doing so would just require marking the tag. Viola, you now have a $1,000 suit. But they worked on a 50% mark up and that was what they did -- a $1,000 suit cost so much because it cost $500 to make (an item they ultimately could not produce).

Today, Brooks' margins vary depending on the product category, but it's generally closer to 70% (a common practice in this industry). And they constantly look for ways to cut costs and improve margins. There have been many internal discussions to move the tie production from New York to Italy, where it's cheaper. The only reason why someone would want to keep to a New York factory is provenance, which is something that customers perhaps no longer care about. Brooks could sell them on the idea of provenance -- a grand American brand making clothes in a style they pioneered and manufactured in America -- but over time, they've tried to follow the market instead of shaping it. So now they look like an Italian brand with the Milano fits, minimalist sneakers, and designer collaborations.

I don't know if there's still a market for that kind of old Brooks clothing. Fewer and fewer people wear tailored clothing. Brooks also used to rely on generations of customers, so that a father would introduce his son to his sales associate, who would then buy his first suit from this SA (their vanity book Generations of Style alludes to this history). But I think the only way to tell is if Brooks shaped the market in thier image, not follow trends like Italian menswear.
 

emptym

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I hope they bring back the unlined Alden LHS.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I hope they bring back the unlined LHS.
They dropped Alden as a supplier. I don't know if they'll revive that relationship, but I imagine they started using Italian factories because they're cheaper.

Another part of this story: Brooks Brothers' shifting supply chains and bankruptcy has also had negative effects on their suppliers. Vanners, a silk producer in Suffolk, England, used to get about 30% of their business from Brooks Brothers alone. Their silks were used for ties. The managing director at Vanners told me that the company's decline started five years ago, which is exactly the same year when Brooks went into the red.

As recently as two years ago, Vanners had 100 employees. At the start of this year, they had 64. Then this past month, half were let go and they filed for administration while working with just 32 on the team. In 2010, silk sales were something like 5x what they are now. As Brooks Brothers sold fewer ties, they've had to shuffle their supply chain to find cheaper sources, slash prices, and hold bigger sales. That means buying less silk from Vanners. And finally, when Brooks filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year, they left Vanners with a big debt (and now Vanners is filing for administration).

That has effects on smaller producers. Vanners also supplies silk to many Savile Row tailoring houses, Drake's, and Vanda Fine Clothing (Gerald and Diana started their line with Vanners silk). I think there are some people who are currently interested in buying Vanners as a company, and the mill's fate will be in their hands.
 

NYCTechNerd

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I knew BB was headed in the wrong direction when I started seeing their shops in airports. As for their huge expansion into outlets, I firmly believe it was a big mistake, especially to make shoddy products just for the outlets. I bought a 346 model suit from the outlet once (before I knew better) and it was terribly made. It actually started coming apart at the seams. I firmly believe their outlet expansion cheapened the brand. I stopped buying at BB in about '07 or so, although I've occasionally picked up C&J shoes from them on sale.
I am a third generation customer (nearing very early retirement). I was born, raised, grew up, and have spent most of my life in Manhattan. My grandfather and father had "personal shoppers" at 44th and Madison (or dedicated SAs) when it was still a thing. Then when my four brothers and I became adults we worked directly with the same SA for most of the 90s until he left that store and BB altogether. Unfortunately that was when I believe the downfall really began. I remember for a time they stopped making exact shirt sleeve lengths and did the 32/33, 34/35, etc. thing to save money. Customers freaked out, stopped purchasing, and they immediately reversed course.

I have fond memories of that specific store: my grandfather and father purchasing BB x Alden shoes every few years (because theirs had been resoled so many times), picking out new bowties for both of them off the many round tables on the first floor, watching them get fitted for suits by the tailors, and having a stack of shirts brought out by the SA who "put them aside" because he thought they might like them. As an adult, I always liked going through the boxes of last seasons "sale" shirts in the back area of the first floor. I have a big neck, short arms, and slimmer waist so I was always able to get great deals on the leftovers of my odd size. I still like the must-iron and non-iron shirts and wish they were made here. Up until a few years ago I would purchase a few every year at the after Xmas sale to replace ones I had worn out (or were ruined by the cleaners). While I used to purchase suits, sports jackets, wool trousers, ties, belts, underwear, and shirts, I only purchase a few shirts every couple of years these days and get everything else at different places.

My attachment to the brand was my grandfather and father always thought it was quality clothing at a fair price and I loved the "experience" of going with them to the 44th and Madison store and visiting with their "personal shopper". That is long gone. I also lived through the downfall in quality:
  • Original few retail outlets were last seasons merchandise => lower quality clothing made specifically for outlets devaluing the overall brand.
  • Shoes: Alden => Allen Edmonds => cheap Italian knockoffs of Alden and AE designs with premium pricing (I have tried them and they are truly overpriced crap).
  • MUSA shirts => offshore production => mixed length sizing => back to specific length sizing but made at an even cheaper factory offshore
  • Red Fleece => trying to engage a younger generation => epic fail
  • Golden Fleece => trying to rebrand MUSA product and charge a fortune for it => epic fail (this is not RL Purple)
  • Generally trying to chase trends is killing them. A BB suit should not have skinny lapels (in 2020) and only fit men who are often more bulimic than the women (or men) they date.
I have been watching the sales the past few weeks and it worries me. I have literally never seem the shirts and suits sold so cheaply. I lost count but I must have ordered 10 must-iron shirts at about $25 each during a flash sale and about the same amount of non-iron shirts for $39 each on a similar flash sale. I had an issue with an order and got a customer service supervisor on the phone who stated that all stock is being sold but not replenished for the foreseeable future. She refused to elaborate and only offered to discount something similar at the same price. I was in a Boston (visiting family in the area) area store recently and was speaking with an SA who has been around for a very long time. She said that absolutely all current stock is being closed out, but she is excited because they are supposed to have new lines next fall. When I asked if she meant spring because next fall is several months away, she was adamant that it was next fall and did not want to speak about it any further. She was very upbeat so while it seems that Brooks Brothers will survive, who actually knows if this iteration will work (or last until the next bankruptcy and takeover).
 
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